The top three diversity challenges facing the PR industry

Education, role models and investment are the top three diversity challenges facing the PR industry, argues Andrew Barratt of Ogilvy Public Relations.

There are three key issues affecting diversity, argues Andrew Barratt
There are three key issues affecting diversity, argues Andrew Barratt
A full understanding of the business case, and what best practice diversity and inclusion look like in your organisation, is the first challenge in the industry. Embracing diversity and inclusion is not just ethical and the right thing to do, but has a very strong business case and positive effect on a PR agency’s revenue.

Agencies need to reflect the people in the market in which they are operating, in order to understand and embrace this huge shift in society to the full. This can lead to better work and stronger insights for your clients.

Engaging diverse audiences, and factoring these into campaign management, are becoming an integral part of clients' PR strategies – agencies need to be prepared to answer these challenges. An education on what this means is needed for employees to win business and do great work.

Agency leaders need to ensure that the people who make up their agency form a diverse group. This means celebrating difference. Diversity and inclusion are just as important for the next phase of creativity within the industry, and to ensure effective communications, as they are for good personnel relationships within a company.  

There is also a challenge to educate young, diverse talent about the PR industry and inspire them to want to have a career in the industry. Agencies should increase their education programmes in order to attract a more diverse talent pool, and inspire people from all backgrounds to work in communications from the critical point at which they are making career decisions.

Role models
Agencies are still predominately being run by white, heterosexual men, and this is most obvious when scanning through PR power lists. Diverse senior role models are needed to attract and retain a pipeline of diverse talent in the industry. Company policies and behavioural change can create the right space for people to come out, but role models prove that it is possible and worthwhile.

Ultimately it is executives themselves who must lead the change. With regard to LGBT, we need more positive, public role models. That means people being brave enough to be open about who they are, challenge stereotypes and inspire future boardroom leaders. Self-disclosure is best for employees – and for the businesses that support them.

By setting a clear direction from the top, businesses must proactively make diversity and inclusion part of the agenda of leaders, rather than delegating it to the human resources department or to a company network. Leaders should be assessed against their ability to create a sustainably inclusive working environment. 

Investment is needed to fully reap the rewards of the business case for diversity and inclusion. This means enrolling on programmes, such as Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme, to benchmark your policies against best practice. Investment to find diverse talent is critical, and then investment in measurement and tracking development to keep diverse talent within your organisation is key to show the success of diversity and inclusion policies. Using resources to upskill and provide training in your organisation for those from all backgrounds, so that people can realise their full potential to have a successful career in communications, is key for the next generation of PR professionals.

Diversity and inclusion is first and foremost a human imperative. But it is also good for businesses, which suffer when employees are preoccupied by something other than their work. People are happier, more productive and make more money for their company when they can be themselves. Investment to develop a clear diversity and inclusion strategy should be in every agency leader’s 2016 plans and beyond.

Andrew Barratt is a member of the CIPR’s Diversity Working Group

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